The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce in Fort Pierce Florida
The Fort Pierce Islamic Center in Fort Pierce, Fla., is shown on June 12, 2016, as worshippers take part in a service to offer prayers for victims of the Orlando shooting  Joe Skipper—Reuters

Shock, Disappointment and Kindness From Worshippers at Shooter's Mosque

There's a quote from the Quran on the wall of the Fort Pierce Islamic Center, where Omar Mateen and his family came to pray. “That ye may know each other," it says, "(Not that ye may despise each other.)”

Every time Mateen removed his shoes and walked to the bathing area where Muslims wash before prayer, he would have passed these words.

The Fort Pierce Islamic Center is housed in a building that was once a church, on a street where there are at least five Baptist churches on a 3-mile stretch. The area is heavily Christian, and mostly white, with a significant population of African Americans, but few Muslims. The region is known, literally, as White City, but the Fort Pierce Islamic Center serves worshippers from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Palestine, Jordan and Afghanistan.

"He let us down," says worshipper Habiba Haque, a mother of two, as she wipes away a tear. "We tried so hard, so hard to express ourselves, that we are good people."

Read More: Orlando Shooter Omar Mateen’s Father: ‘I Don’t Forgive Him’

The Islamic center has faced threats and at least one instance of harassment in the days since Mateen killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning in what is now considered the deadliest mass shooting in American history and the worst terrorist attack since 9/11. But when this reporter wanders cautiously into the women's wing of the center as the congregants are sitting down to break their fast for Ramadan — the annual holy month during which Muslims eat only before sunrise and after sunset — the response is overwhelmingly kind.

They offer tea and dates. One insists I take a shrimp fritter. Another woman takes the scarf off her own head to wrap it around my waist, "like a sarong," to hide my knees peeking out from under my shorts.

They all express complete shock at Mateen's actions, and agree they never would have expected such a brutal act of violence from someone in their community. Because the mosque separates men and women, most of the women congregants did not have as regular contact with Mateen himself as they had with his mother and sisters. Still, they say, he seemed just like everyone else.

Marian Alladin, a retired schoolteacher, says that Mateen had paid a condolence call to her husband after he broke his leg in an accident. "That kid came to my house, he came with his wife, his son, and he sat with him," she recalled, saying he was "very pleasant, very sociable."

His mother and sisters are just like the other ladies at the center, multiple women say, gushing over children and grandchildren and comparing beauty and fashion tips. They are well respected in the congregation, and known as good members of the community. "He came from a very nice family," Alladin says.

Vigils Held Around the World for Orlando Shooting Victims

Thousands gather at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to pay their respects for those lost in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando on June 13, 2016.
Thousands gather at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to pay their respects for those lost in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando on June 13, 2016. Candlelight vigils and remembrances for the victims of the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Early Sunday, an American-born man who had recently pledged allegiance to ISIS opened fire in the nightclub killing at least 49 people, in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Thousands gather at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to pay their respects for those lost in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando on June 13, 2016.
Men embrace during a candle light vigil in memory of victims one day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay night club in Orlando on June 13, 2016.
Taylor Forrest (C), of Orlando, Florida, cries on the sidewalk near a memorial for the victims of a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando outside of the Stonewall Inn, a famous gay bar, in New York City on June 13, 2016.
Hundreds of people listen to speakers at a memorial gathering for those killed in Orlando in front of the iconic New York City gay and lesbian bar The Stonewall Inn on June 13, 2016.
A woman joins others in writing the names of shooting victims in chalk in a park across from the iconic New York City gay and lesbian bar The Stonewall Inn on June 13, 2016.
A couple embraces as people gather in front of a makeshift memorial in New York City to remember the victims of a mass shooting in Orlando, June 12, 2016.
Flags at the Washington Monument fly at half staff to honor those killed in last weekend's shootings at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, in Washington, DC, U.S. June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2FY94
People take part during a vigil in solidarity outside Manhattan's historic Stonewall Inn to express their support for the victims killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in New York on June 13 ,2016. The American gunman who launched a murderous assault on a gay nightclub in Orlando was radicalized by Islamist propaganda, officials said Monday, as they grappled with the worst terror attack on US soil since 9/11. / AFP PHOTO / KENA BETANCURKENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and queer (LGTBQ) community attend a candlelight vigil outside the White House in Washington, D.C., June 12 2016.
White roses and rainbow flags are displayed in front of the US Embassy in Berlin on June 13, 2016.
A member of the public holds a candle during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, at Frank Kitts Park in Wellington, June 13 2016.
People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando attack against a gay night club, held in San Francisco, June 12, 2016.
People gather to mourn, honor and remember the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting at Newtown, in Sydney, Australia on June 13, 2016.
Participants hold candles during a vigil at Frank Kits Park in remembrance of victims after a gunman opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Wellington, New Zealand on June 13, 2016.
Mourners gather outside of the iconic New York City gay and lesbian bar the Stonewall Inn to light candles,lay flowers and grieve for those killed in Orlando last evening on June 12, 2016.
People take part in a candlelight vigil for the victims of a shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in Hong Kong, Hong Kong on June 13, 2016.
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Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
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A representative for the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was at the mosque on Monday to field inquiries from reporters, since the mosque's administration was not equipped to manage the deluge of media requests. "Our hearts are with the victims," said Wilfredo Ruiz, communications director for CAIR of Florida, adding the shooting was a "heinous act" that "has no excuse." He also said that CAIR is urging all mosques and Islamic community centers to implement a "deradicalization" program, in which a team of mental-health professionals and lawyers could reach out to troubled individuals "precrime," when there is not necessarily evidence of an intent to harm (since it's difficult to call the police on something as vague as a shift in mood or a change in personality). If there is a suspicion of actual violence, Ruiz urged all community members to contact the police immediately.

Many of the women say they are concerned about anti-Muslim violence in response to the attacks, and they are upset that the actions of one disturbed congregant would reflect poorly on the entire community at the center. "We're afraid of backlash, targeting us because he came to this mosque," Alladin says. None of the women interviewed say they could recall any time when anti-gay sentiments were ever expressed at the mosque, and all say that gay Muslims would be welcome to worship there.

Read More: Thousands Gather in Orlando for Somber Vigil

Most of all, the women expressed a sadness that Mateen had used a religion that teaches peace and kindness as a justification for his act of violence. "If he was religious, he would never do these things," Haque says. "Killing innocent people is like killing all of humanity. It's in the Quran."

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